Every third woman in Germany has experienced physical and/or sexualised violence since the age of 15. Statistically, that is more than 12 million women. Every day a man tries to kill a woman. Femicide succeeds every third day.
In Cologne, violence against women has been somewhat synonymous with the city, following a New Year’s Eve incident in 2015, after which the city council committed to not let anything of its kind ever happen again.
“In response to New Year’s Eve 2015/16, we founded EDELGARD to provide more safety for women and girls in public spaces. ‘EDELGARD mobile’ is on-site at major events and offers professional advice to those seeking help,” explains Bettina Mötting, Equal Opportunities Representative of the City of Cologne.
“Since 2020, the ‘EDELGARD map’ has given an overview of safe locations in Cologne where victims can find shelter when being threatened. We also initiate regular publicity campaigns to raise awareness of the issue, not only for EDELGARD but also for the Orange DaysC,” Mötting adds.
While the Federal Republic of Germany officially recognised violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women by signing up for the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention in 2017, the city of Cologne has further shown its support for the subject in several ways, including through taking part in the International Day against Violence against Women.
Under the mandate of UN Women, the International Day to eliminate Violence against Women now kicks off 16 days of activism – until International Human Rights Day on 10 December – that provide an occasion to promote programmes and activities to strengthen women’s rights, as described in Article 12 of the Istanbul Convention.
These days, known as the “orange days,” are increasingly used for awareness-raising in Cologne, targeted not only through the public sector and media but with the support of the private sector as well.
Last week, 1,000 posters were already in place around the city, and this week, notices have been shared in the city’s trams, metro stations, and online.
Last year, one initiative, led by the city’s Office for Gender Equality saw the construction of an orange park bench, which was placed in a square in the city centre for a week as a visible signal for eliminating violence against women and girls.
Its success, including through media attention, and more generally through public popularity, has led to nine more such benches being built by 2025 – one for each of the city’s districts – and the plan is for them to remain permanently.
Breaking the taboo
Beyond the annual campaign period of the Orange Days, the topic of gender-based violence is addressed with various measures in a major campaign.
Within the city administration, guidelines on raising awareness as well as approaches for action in the case of domestic violence, seek to give the topic an internal face by ensuring that across management levels and among staff, the city can act as a role model employer.
More widely, over 20 local institutions of the women’s aid infrastructure are committed to removing the taboo of discussing violence against women in society.
This has included actions such as:
- An anonymous reporting available in five hospitals to collect evidence on rape
- Training for professionals on how to deal with online cases of violence and abuse
- Support by care institutions for traumatised women, including during war
“Violence against women and girls is the expression of historically grown unequal power relations between women and men. Therefore, in this context, we also clearly speak of structural violence”, Mötting remarks.
“The various forms of violence against women and girls as well as gender-specific violence prevent full equality and constitute a violation of human rights. Thus, there is a compelling necessity for municipal equality work to address the issue in an all-encompassing manner,” the Equal Opportunities Representative adds.
Another area that the city has taken action on includes the approval for creating a third women’s shelter – across Germany it is estimated there are currently less than half the amount of shelters needed to offer a roof to all women in need.
In the coming years, the city hopes to integrate further areas into its work on eliminating violence against women, including specific support for sex workers, homeless women, older women and women in need of care, and women who have suffered psychological violence.
This article is part of a series on how cities tackle gender-based violence and eliminate violence against women in Europe to celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the 16 days of activism until human rights day on 10 December. Previous articles in this series include::